We examined the light and electron microscopic structure of lobar bronchial biopsies of nine subjects with occupational asthma induced by toluene diisocyanate (TDI) and of four control nonasthmatic subjects who had never been exposed to TDI. Inflammatory cell numbers were separately assessed in the intact epithelium, in the more superficial layer of the submucosa, and in the total submucosa. Asthmatic subjects had an increased number of inflammatory cells in the airway mucosa compared with control subjects. Eosinophils were significantly increased in all compartments, CD45-positive cells were significantly increased in the epithelium and in the more superficial layer of the submucosa, and mast cells were significantly increased only in epithelium. By electron microscopy eosinophils and mast cells appeared degranulated only in asthmatic patients. In the areas of epithelium that appeared intact by light microscopy, electron microscopy showed that, although the intercellular spaces between columnar cells were similar in asthmatic and control groups, the intercellular spaces between basal cells were significantly wider in patients with asthma. Patients with TDI-induced asthma also had a thicker subepithelial reticular layer, where immunohistochemistry showed the presence of collagen III. In conclusion, in patients with asthma induced by TDI, the airway mucosa shows pathologic features, such as inflammatory cell infiltrate and thickening of subepithelial collagen, similar to those described in atopic asthma.